Step 1: Identify and correct nutritional deficiencies
Nutritional deficiencies are more common than you think.
Whether it's a case of not getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals (known as micronutrients) or the right blend and amount of fats, proteins and carbohydrates from our food (known as macronutrients).
In the UK the Department of Health has established DRV's (Dietary Reference Values) via the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition. These set of guidelines of what are required to maintain health, but remember your requirements can change according to your physical activity level, whether you are ill or not, and what stage you are in life (certain nutrients are required more in different stages of life).
Blood, saliva and urine tests can uncover potential deficiencies.
As a Nutritional Therapist, here are some of the more group of deficiencies that I come across with my Nutrition Coaching clients
Put simply, when we don't get the right nutrients that we need in the correct amount then we suffer, but when we do , that's when we set ourselves up for a win and thrive.
If you are not ready (or able) to get testing done, then I have some suggestions for you which are a great place to start. Choose which one's works for you.
Drink More Hydrating Fluids - water intake is key.
Nutrient Density And Diversity - eat a variety of wholefoods, get those vegetables and fruit in.
Eat More Foods Rich In Protein - if you do not eat animal products then it's particularly important that you understand what are good sources of plant based protein. While all plants contain protein, for higher sources, think beans, pulses, tofu, tempeh, hemp foods, peanuts, meat replacements, and plant protein powders are great to add to smoothies too.
Get Your Healthy Fats In - again, for those who follow plant based nutrition betting your essential fats in is important. You can get healthy fats from avocado, algae oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp are just a few places, nuts are also a good source, just you want to limit the amount of those you take in (you need a good balance of what's called Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats).
Step 2: Adjust your food amount and food type
So now you've corrected your food deficiencies best you can and you are ready for the next step. That involves adjusting your food amount and food type. First, lets clear up a few things
1) Food Amount
Now you may have read that when it comes to weight loss, your macronutrient break down (the mix of protein, carbs and fats) doesn't really matter, as long as you are in a negative energy balance.
Strictly speaking this is true. But please keep in mind just because you are tracking calories that doesn't always mean that you are in a negative energy balance. Calculations and food labelling is are not always accurate (there is an estimate of error). Then due to genetic factors and how efficient your digestive system is, the way each person absorbs nutrients from food will differ from the amount of calories that are consume.
Put simply, the way my body absorbs 2,000Kcal will be very different to how you absorb calories.
Plus food type matters. Your body cannot always absorb 100% of energy from food ( to be frank, it's one of the reasons you defecate in the first place).
2) Food Type
So just because you are in a negative energy balance (if you wish to lose weight) or a positive energy balance (if you wish you gain weight) that doesn't mean you are healthy (or even eating correctly for your goals).
Remember earlier when I talked about nutrient deficiencies? Even if you eat enough in terms of calories, that doesn't mean you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs. Two key phrases that you'll want to remember are....
Make sense? Great!
I bet you're thinking, "Ok, so how much should I eat?"
As I said, unless you have a specific medical condition or compete in a sport that requires it, I actively encourage people not to count calories as this can back fire for many reasons (some of which I have already highlighted). Plus I find that what really matters when it comes to sustaining healthy nutrition is the ability to tune into your body's hunger and fullness cues.
Outside of that, Precision Nutrition have put together a good starting point based on your body type. It's useful information and I share it with everyone who is on my nutrition program to give them a head start. I've included it below for you to take a look.
Now this is not an exact science, but it is certainly a good reference point for you to start from. Treat it as an experiment. Test it, then adjust your macronutrients base on whether what you are currently doing is bringing you closer, or further away from your goals.
Pretty simple to follow right? There are a couple of things I want you to keep in mind though.
Step 3: Fine tune the details
Managed to sort your nutrient deficiencies? Eating the right types of food in the right amount for you? Look at you, you badass you! (give yourself a pat on the back - you got this).
Now, it's just a matter of dialling in your nutrition and making minor adjustments. Here's somethings that you might want to consider.
Carb Cycling and Calorie Cycling
It's a complex topic and beyond the scope of this article. It can work really well for some and not so for others.
In a nutshell, on the days that you are lifting weights, add starchy carbs to your baseline diet (or your evening meal the night before if you are lifting in the morning).
While on the days you are not lifting, eat mainly protein, vegetables and healthy fats with minimal carbs.
1 - 2 hours before your workout have a meal as outline above if your schedule permits. If not, some form simple cabrohydrate shortly before your workout (roughly 30 mins).
Sometimes a carbohydrate supplement may be useful.
Coffee/ Caffeine prior to your workout can also be beneficial for some. Caffeine not only acts as a stimulant, it can also acts on the beta receptors in the cells, releasing fat so that it can be utilised for energy.
Creatine can also be great for those wishing to improve lean muscle mass and improve performance. If you are vegan, plant based or vegetarian this can be a complete game changer for you.
Post Workout Nutrition
While for some, the default workout nutrition is a protein shake (which can be a life saver if you are unable to get a meal in after your workout). Your body will need a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients to help the repair process. Ideally consume a meal from whole food sources much like outlined above.
Get the basics right first, before moving onto more advanced techniques. Steps 1 and steps 2 cover the fundamental basics. If you only do these two steps, I promise you that within the space of six weeks you will being to notice a difference, not only in how you look, but how you feel.
If you stick with it for just six months then you'll be surprised by what you can achieve. But don't just take my word for it.
Test it. See what happens.
(Thank me later).
If you would like to learn more about my Project 12 Transformation Program and discover how I use simple nutrition strategies, effective workouts and mindset tools to transform more than just your body, check out the links below.